Game 086:(W3) Dayton [-14.5] 78, (E5) St. Bonaventure 48 Atlantic 10 First Round Wednesday, March 9, 2005 U.S. Bank Arena - Cincinnati, OH
It's really difficult to get folks excited about what initially appears to be generic, no-name hoops. Few know that better than I.
If I had my way, every mid-major college game everywhere would be sold out, no matter who was playing. All paying customers would stay to the end, and "beating traffic" wouldn't have any place in the lexicon. Observers would become fans by picking teams based solely on heartstring tugs, and then they'd loudly cheer them on to victory. I see skies of blue and clouds of white, and I also see a wonderful world where everyone loves basketball as much as they say they do.
The reality is that people have their teams, as well as other things to attend to. And that's fine. Most college basketball fans scream and whoop and yell and wear their team colors proudly, and that's what makes March so gosh-darned mad.
But at an multi-game session at a conference tournament, among the red- or green- or blue-clad faithful, you might find people who are unaffiliated, but equally as passionate... if not more so. They'll curse out the referees and jump and holler with the best of them, but when someone asks them what year they were, or if they remember a certain old-school player, they'll usually respond with something like, "Oh no, I didn't go to Dayton."
The neophyte might think that they're just sympathetics, folks who love hoops so much that they'll cheer on a squad that represents a faraway school. But upon closer inspection, they don't seem to be happy that they're only winning, say, by four and not by five. And they'll be rooting for some other team during the late game, with equal fervor. What's up with that?
If you want to reveal their true rooting interest, all you have to do is ask a simple question. "Hey, what's the spread on this one?"
"Fourteen and a half, mac," comes the response. "But I got in at twelve."
"Easy money," a second gentleman says, chuckling a little. "I love this time of year."
"I'd say," replies the other. "They figure the underdog has a little gumption in 'em, that's why they run the leash tight."
"Teams are just playing to win," his companion muses. "But you see certain matchups, and you can play the left side with total confidence."
Seething behind the thicket of brackets, bubbling beneath the wood of the hardcourt, are the liquid assets that lubricate the gears of March. Every year, it's estimated that three out of every 10 American workers take part in office pools. The FBI puts the annual flow (Nevada-legal as well as not-so) during Tournament time at over $3 billion.
Conference tourneys are a great way to make a little seed for the Big Dance's wild first-and-second round weekend. With teams like St. Bonaventure allowed to play, closer-than-average lines make enterprising gamblers' eyes light up like Christmas. Last year, the Bonnies were drubbed 90-64 by eventual A-10 champions Xavier, which made a lot of people very happy. Especially those who took the Musketeers, minus 21 points.
This particular year's sad-sack Bonnies, they of a 2-26 overall record, did not show up on this evening, here in the final game of the Atlantic 10 first round. But there on the court, an invisible threat both on the perimeter and the low post was present, one that threatened not to tear up the Dayton defense, but a lot of wager slips. The Spread was in town, and it meant business.
With nine minutes to go, the Flyers finally tied the Spread after a blistering out-of-the-gate burst of 22-8. A freshman forward named Norman Plummer shook off two early fouls and began making shots - in the face of the Fairfield, Ohio native's 18-point performance, that bookmaker's fabrication never stood a devil's chance.
But the Spread would not go quiet into that dark Cincinnati night. The last thriling moment of the game came at the 17-minute mark of the second period, when a quick 7-2 spurt cut Dayton's lead to two and a half at 46-29. But the Flyers would have nothing of this insurgency. Their 55% shooting performance made sure the Spread was sent to bed.
Over the course of this season, I've had my run-ins with gamblers. The Mid-Majority was even the Site Of The Week for a gambling website that promised that behind that hyperlink hid a "storehouse" of information on Division I's little guys. Once visitors realized that it was more of a library - more specifically the literature section - the hate mail began to mount.
Me, I don't bet... at least not anymore. I won't even fill out a bracket next week. It would start showing up in the tone and candor of this site if I were to treat the players like athletic robots that exist solely to do my bidding.
Just in case there are any IRS representatives reading this, I'll just say that I had a good Tournament back in 2000, one that was successful enough to net me a Sega Dreamcast and a bunch of games. I'm not saying I was any good at wagering, or an old pro at the game... good has nothing to do with it.
Betting on college basketball games is less about luck or skill than it is about mathematics. About a third of your bets are gimmees (like the contest in question), badly-written lines that snag only the suckiest of suckers. There are a third of them that you're doomed to lose - upsets, results based on intangibles, those final scores that end up a point or two away on the wrong side of the line.
It's that middle third. The games that swing you between profit and loss, the ones that hit hardest on your psyche, the one that determine what kind of streak you're on. Those might not get you every time, but they will eventually. And to coin a phrase, you can bet on that.